Back in December, we decided to refinance our home to take advantage of low interest rates, but more so to consolidate debt and better utilize the equity our house has gained since we bought it in 2012 after the housing bubble burst.

Actually, I first started researching this back in May, however the big banks including ours had all put a halt on cash-out refinances to help manage their risk and we had wanted to stay where the rest of our accounts were, so we opted to wait it out. Well, after eight months I got tired of waiting – particularly after calculating just how much we could save in debt payments by rolling it all into the mortgage instead.

We ended up reaching out to the same mortgage broker that helped us buy the house because he was a lot easier to work with than the scads of other lenders who all had kind of terrible offers anyways. I highly recommend finding a broker who you can contact directly instead of working with a call center who has you talking to a different agent every time you call in…

Ultimately it took us 52 days from the day we chose our lender to when we had cash in hand after closing, compared to 55 days when we bought our house from offer to keys in hand, which in hindsight is still pretty impressive!

Granted, we already live in the house that we refinanced, however in turn they also gave us a fat check, so…

Also, there’s been this pandemic going on, if you hadn’t heard. Plus there were a couple of major holidays in the mix, which I’m sure slowed us down a bit.

Nonetheless, I know that during all of my waiting that I would’ve loved to see something about how people in a similar situation were progressing, so I thought it might be useful to share my own timeline after the fact in case anyone wants to compare how their own refinance is moving along… (or not!)

12/8 – Began soliciting loan offers.

12/11 – First contact with lender we actually chose.

12/15 – Selected lender.

12/15 – Completed loan application and submitted supporting documents.

12/20 – Provided more documentation for underwriter.

12/30 – Loan approved by underwriter.

1/9 – Lender realized that we needed an appraisal after all and ordered one.

1/11 – Contacted by title company for paperwork.

1/15 – Received closing disclosure (#1).

1/15 – Appraiser came to review house.

1/18 – Appraisal amount was confirmed.

1/20 – Received closing disclosure (#2) after results of appraisal.

1/25 – Loan was cleared to close.

1/27 – Closing date – some documents signed online, notary came to our house for others.

2/1 – Loan funded after waiting period, cash out received!

If you stumble across this and find yourself staring down the barrel of a refinancing offer while this crazy pandemic is still going on, just know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so get that paperwork submitted and then go find something productive to do while you wait! 😛

This seems like kind of a weird post to write as we see more and more people getting laid off or struggling for work as the virus spreads, so just bear with me…

I found myself buying some stock yesterday.

Not a lot, really. I think I spent about $150 between two different companies, and the only reason I did is because quite frankly, it was really, really cheap.

That’s kind of the unique perk of the markets tanking like they have over the last couple of weeks – while it’s painful to watch our retirement accounts fall something like 25%, it also presents the opportunity to buy at a discount for however long this market takes to recover.

This is intriguing to me because I don’t like to admit it, but I stopped contributing to my 401k a little over a year ago when our finances weren’t doing so hot. In fact, I doubled down by taking out a 401k loan and then stopping my regular contributions, too, which I’d been otherwise making religiously for a long time, so I’ve been disappointed in my retirement savings whereas it used to be something I felt pretty good about.

I’ve had the conversation with people a few different times now that despite uncertainty in the markets, now isn’t the time to pull your retirement funds. If anything, as long as you’re nowhere near ready for retirement, low points like this are when it’s smart to buy more! So far this year I’ve slowly started limping my 401k contributions back up from 0%, and though they’re nowhere near what I’d like them to be … it’s something.

Anyways, the other day at random I started thinking about some of the businesses currently on hold – namely theme parks and cruise ships – and it wasn’t much of a surprise to see that they’ve really gone south!

As of when I’m writing this (3/19, after market close), here’s what they looked like (compared to one month prior)…

  • Walt Disney Company (DIS) – $94.93, down 34% from $144.63
  • Universal Corporation (UVV) – $44.13, down 12% from $50
  • SeaWorld (SEAS) – $8.54, down 76% from $35.25
  • Six Flags (SIX) – $11.39, down 75% from $45.11
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) – $22.41, down 83% from $133.51
  • Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) – $10, down 80% from $50.83

Now I honestly don’t think much about individual companies for investments anymore – what little stock I did own, I sold off and traded for an S&P 500-based index fund instead. And of course, all of our retirement savings are in similar mutual funds.

Still, it’s kind of fun to own a small piece of a company – something I used to boast about Disney before I sold my shares because kids are even more expensive than their park tickets!

It’s also worth noting that A) I like all of these companies, and B) I don’t really have any doubts that they’re going to recover from all of this … eventually. It might take a while, namely because lord only knows how long these closures will need to drag on, but they’re all popular entertainment businesses with large assets, be it cruise ships or castles or even whales and dolphins… 😉

So for starters, I bought a handful of shares of both SeaWorld and Royal Caribbean. I’ll probably buy a few more tomorrow once we get paid, too, depending on how all of the dollars and cents wash out.

I’m not looking to get rich off of these investments, however I do believe in each of their brands and what they do, and 80% off seems like a pretty good deal when you’re buying companies that you enjoy and admire!

If they can help to bridge that gap left behind by not contributing to my retirement over the last couple of years, that would be nice because honestly it’s probably one of the few “risky investments” that I’d ever feel comfortable gambling my money on.

Do with these thoughts what you will, as I’m certainly not a financial professional. I’m just a guy who likes Florida’s tourism industry, and saw a fun opportunity to own a piece of some fun companies that my family enjoys. 😉

Banking Made Easy-ish

March 30, 2016 1:44am
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So I thought I’d write a little about this because it ultimately took up a bit more of my day than I was really expecting, but in the end I’m still feeling pretty positive about the whole situation so I kind of wanted to share… 😉

I’ve written a few times in the past about my personal banking and my position on the matter continues to evolve, ironically to the point where now I’m actually more or less content with the same place that drew from me much ire only two years ago! And honestly, it’s really not so much the bank changing their ways as it is me changing my perspective on their ways, so let’s dive into it.

If I had to pinpoint one single idea that defined my personal banking relationship these days, I’d have to say that it’s in acknowledging that to a trillion dollar bank, I personally represent a very, very … very small fish in a very, very very big pond.

That’s all there is to it, and so despite issues with my finances being all-encompassing for me, I’ve found that it’s important to put things in perspective that if I want to argue with these guys over a few percentage points of interest or some late payment fees, there’s simply no real reason for them to care. As a financial institution, they exist much more for my benefit than I do for theirs … and that’s a tough one to swallow when “The customer is always right!” is your mantra, but remember, we’re trying to find compromise (and peace!) here…

I came to this realization over about the last month as I’ve been working to migrate a couple of stock accounts over to a brokerage account with Wells Fargo because they’re not a ton of money – maybe $5,000 total – but to a brokerage managing customers with portfolios containing literally millions of dollars, my little nest egg is pretty much a single fish egg sitting beside a dinosaur egg … and that’s ok because they’re still willing to work with me – they’ve got specific tiers within their reps to do so (e.g. call center vs. dedicated advisors, etc…).

This is good for me because it allows me the opportunity to invest, and to keep my investments easy to manage along with the rest of my banking at Wells Fargo, whereas I could technically spread out my accounts between an assortment of discount brokerages and credit unions that individually might handle each account a little better in their own way, but for me at this point, I’m willing to sacrifice a few dollars a trade or a tenth of a percentage point of interest in exchange for my time and my sanity.

I think it’s easy to get into that mindset when we’re customers that we’re the most important customer that XYZ Corporation has and so they should bend over backwards to make us happy, but let’s be honest – that usually isn’t the case. I recall a time many years ago when Sprint made headlines for “firing high-maintenance customers” so that they could focus on the rest, and even though it probably filled twenty-something me with all sorts of angst and rage, looking back – and having worked in a call center since myself – I can kind of see where they were coming from because really, you can only take so many complaints before you can’t help but say, “If we’re such an awful cell phone provider, then why are you still here???”

So that being said, I guess you could say that I’m trying to be more conscious of my place in the world, if you will … which isn’t to say that I devalue my position to these kinds of companies, but maybe just that I’m not the only customer they have and that they need to make money, too – even if their executives get paid ridiculous bonuses that just make me want to throw their late fees right out the window!

With that in mind, if I look at my personal finances – the places where big banks earn money from me are really pretty limited:

  1. Mortgage Interest – the BIG nut, thousands of dollars/year
  2. Credit Card / Loan Interest – not nearly as huge as my mortgage, hundreds of dollars/year
  3. Brokerage Account – even if I do a handful of trades, maybe tens of dollars/year
  4. Deposit Accounts – almost nothing, especially if I meet my minimums and don’t overdraft, less than a hundred dollars/year

When you consider that my needs to interact with the bank is completely inverse to how they actually profit from me, it kind of helps to put into perspective why people feel like their banks don’t really care about them … because they don’t need to. You don’t make millions of dollars for shareholders by spending 90% of your focus on 10% of your profit-generating customers – it’s just the sad reality of how business works. And again, the lens that I’m trying to look at this all through isn’t that I shouldn’t waste my time with them because they don’t need me, but more so that there are some great things they can do for me if I play my cards right, but that I also have to remember where I fit into their puzzle because if I’m not kind and don’t know what to expect from them in advance, there’s not much more incentive for them to really go above and beyond for me.

In all of my investment research fun that I’ve done over the last month, I came across this forum thread where the poster was complaining about a brokerage because in his eyes they were rude to him after he asked for some advice and then after deciding to transfer some of his money elsewhere, the bank transferred his account from a dedicated advisor back to simply using their call center as his primary point of contact.

Now from his perspective, $30,000 was a lot of money and he’d been with them for over a decade, so just handing his account off to a lesser rep felt like some sort of travesty … but in reality? That advisor probably spent more preparing that single, unused recommendation than his years of $100 annual fees in one swoop.

So not only with banking, but with many of the people who I find myself interacting with these days, I’m trying to put myself more in their shoes of how *I* fit into the relationship we share before I let myself get too bent out of shape over something that rubs me the wrong way. Should that cast member at Disney World have been more helpful when ApplePay wouldn’t work at their kiosk? How about the doctor’s office that screwed up my prescription refill and then blamed it on the pharmacy when I called them out on it?

In any of these scenarios, I’m not necessarily willing to walk away from Disney or my doctor or Wells Fargo, so as much as I’d like to rant and rave and get the attention of their CEOs for times when I feel like I’ve been slighted, sometimes … sometimes … it’s just easier to take a deep breath and let one slide for the greater good because if there’s one thing I’ve been learning a lot lately as I get older, it’s that time spent arguing with customer service is almost never worthwhile. 😕

How Much Do You Pay Yourself?

March 1, 2016 8:53pm
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So you might have guessed that I’ve been in kind of a personal finance mood the last couple of days. Yesterday I posted about investing and the value of time, which led to another random question that I started musing in the shower this morning … how much am I paying myself each month?

Overall I like to think that our budget looks pretty ok. True that it still has way more debt than I would like, but we also make a conscious effort to save and put money away for retirement, so what exactly does that picture look like???

Turns out it looks something like this…


To be honest, it only took me about 10 minutes to gather all of the data for this exercise – it probably took longer for me to format the graphs just the way I wanted, though I suppose your mileage may vary if you happen to have a lot of credit cards to sort out or something. For what it’s worth, I keep a spreadsheet handy with how much of each of our debts goes to principal vs. interest to help us decide which to pay down next…

It should also be noted that my figures above also include employer retirement contributions like matching and whatnot, so it’s not solely income – more like income plus benefits – if you’re looking for something like Debt-to-Income ratio or a housing ratio, though for what it’s worth our numbers seem to be well below the recommended limits for both (debt – 19% vs 36% limit; housing – 16% vs 28% limit).

Although I thought that this was a good start, distilling it down even further really got me to the meat of what I wanted to see…



This chart takes the previous and groups everything into one of three categories – day to day expenses, debts, and savings – and so it’s easy enough to see here that right now about 21% of my household money is currently being saved aside for another day. Granted that 21% makes up multiple goals – emergency savings, Christopher’s college fund, and retirement – but I think it’s interesting and arguably a little more motivating to look at the monthly progress every now and then instead of simply net worth – debts vs assets which can be a little daunting!

Now to make that green slice a whole lot bigger as the light blue slice fades away… 🙂

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